Monday, April 29, 2013

Morocco's Mistreatment of Prisoners and Unfair Trials

By Nicole Vander Meulen

Brahim Dahane, the president of the Sahrawi Association of Victims of Grave Human Rights Violations, describes his time in a Moroccan prison as hell.  He says that he “spent four years blindfolded and handcuffed, forced to stand all day against a wall” and was subjected to other degrading treatment by Moroccan officials. The conflict between the indigenous populations of Western Sahara and the Moroccan government raises many human rights concerns. Some of the most notable are Morocco’s imprisonment of Western Saharan activists, their treatment while in prison, and the questionable judicial processes used to convict them. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Modern slavery and corporate accountability for forced labor

by Madison Lichliter

A universal human right

Freedom is something that everyone hopes to achieve. But even in the 21st century, freedom has proven to be elusive for many as the number of human trafficking victims continues to increase. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 4 states that “no one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” Despite the clear prohibition of slavery under international law, the International Labour Organization found that three out of every 1,000 people worldwide are engaged in forced labor today. It is clear that slavery still exists, and the epidemic is not solely attributable to third-world countries.

The prevalence of forced labor

Forced labor is one of the most pervasive forms of human trafficking across the world. Forced labor includes the recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining of humans, involved when a person uses force or physical threats, psychological coercion, abuse of the legal process, deception, or other coercive means to compel someone to work. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, forced labor accounts for 36% of the forms of exploitation of all detected victims of trafficking worldwide, a figure that has doubled over the past four years. From a domestic perspective, the U.S. Congress found that approximately 50,000 women and children are trafficked into the United States alone each year. Individuals, most commonly women and children, see the United States as an opportunity for a better life, and the promise of a job here provides an allure that is difficult to turn down, making them susceptible to unscrupulous traffickers. As the State Department TIP Report highlighted, for people desperate to obtain employment to provide for and support their families, a job can also come with extreme costs, sometime in the form of modern slavery.

Monday, April 22, 2013

God Save the Queen?

by Blake Hulnick

Wikimedia Commons
With a lengthy and bruising presidential campaign finally behind them, many Americans were probably surprised by the contrast they encountered opening the newspaper on January 10, 2013, to find reports that a Thai labor activist had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for insulting Thailand’s King.

The embattled activist, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, tried to challenge Thailand’s infamous lèse-majesté law in court, and it appears he failed, getting an additional year for libeling an army general. The activist was the publisher of a newspaper containing two allegedly defamatory articles, and his conviction followed another protestor’s sentencing weeks earlier for violating the same law; the sentencing of a 61-year old man, now dead, to 20 years imprisonment for sending text messages about the Thai royal family; and the imprisonment of an American citizen for translating an allegedly defamatory book about the Thai King.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Commodified Children: Globalization and the Growth of Voluntourism

by Caitlin Cocilova
It was 6 AM. We had woken up early enough to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat and waited patiently along the edge of the water, cameras in hand, to snap that one perfect shot of the majestic temple. I took a break from the view to find the nearest outhouse and was met by a young child asking for the bathroom fee. Being that I was in no position to negotiate at the moment, I quickly handed over the money and passed the child into the restroom. When I left, he was gone, and I knew I had been tricked.

At the beginning of our weeklong educational trip to Cambodia, our PEPY tour guides warned us not to give money to child beggars, explaining how the majority of begging children do not receive the benefits of their efforts and are instead exploited by adults seeking to collect additional wages. Naturally, tourists are attracted to performing charitable deeds while vacationing in developing countries and tend to do so through direct donations to children. What vacationers often fail to realize, however, is the negative implications of their seemingly helpful actions. In recent years, these harmful charitable practices have become especially prevalent within orphanages, which are increasingly common travel destinations for kind-hearted visitors. The conditions children are subjected to in such orphanages, however, frequently defy the provisions set forth in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to which 193 countries are parties, including all of those cited in this post with the exception of Bali. By encouraging mandatory security checks for volunteers working with vulnerable populations, promoting governmental action, and educating well-intentioned travelers on the negative effects of “voluntourism,” children will hopefully be seen less as commodities and more as dignified members of a future generation, members who must be afforded their fundamental rights.

The Expanding Orphanage Industry
Entrepreneurs have jumped on the opportunity to participate in a business model supported by travelers’ desires to “do good” while vacationing, specifically by opening orphanages that ultimately induce tourist support. Over the past decade, the number of orphanages not registered with their respective governments has more than doubled in several developing countries, including Cambodia, Bali, Ghana, Haiti, South Africa and Afghanistan. As reported by Mail Online, this rise in institutions is not the result of an influx of orphaned children, but is rather in response to the recognition of orphanages as profit-building mechanisms. In many instances, orphanage directors withhold donations instead of providing additional services and better living conditions for children so as to gain higher profits; by making children look especially impoverished, malnourished, and deserted, directors are able to attract more sympathetic tourists and increase personal monetary gains. In order to sustain these businesses, the demand for children has increased, as well. Children become pawns in the strategic tourist market, dangled in front of visitors by orphanage directors as if they were colorful silk scarves waiting to catch the eye of the next passing tourist.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Climate Displacement Gap: A Survey of Legal Options for the Protection of Individuals Displaced by Natural Disaster and Slow-Onset Climate Change

by Adina Appelbaum
Twitter: @abappelbaum

Crisis after crisis, natural and climate change-related disasters such as floods, droughts, and storms have displaced people from their homes in countries around the world. Though a causal link between any weather event and climate change is difficult to prove, climatologists have long believed that climate change will result in an increase in extreme weather events. Floods, droughts, and storms almost always impact the lives of individuals, forcing them to flee their homes as a result of safety or reduced food supply, among other factors. In 2005 for example, Hurricane Katrina left a wake of more than 400,000 displaced residents. In 2010, over 20 million people were affected, and 8 million displaced, by the floods in Pakistan. In addition to these more immediate natural disasters, slow-onset climate change-related disasters such as drought, desertification, salination of groundwater, and the rise of sea levels have contributed to massive displacement worldwide. Decreased agricultural output and the collapse of fisheries have also been indirectly linked to climate change. For example, slow-onset climate change in the Sahel, namely erratic rainfall, combined with high food prices, led to a food crisis in 2012 that left 18 million people without sufficient food and put one million children at risk of starvation.

Connection to Human Rights
Climate displacement implicates human rights by threatening lives, food security, livelihoods, water access, health, and safety, among other critical needs. Women, children, and other vulnerable populations are often disproportionately affected. Additionally, underlying factors such as poverty, social injustice, and weak government capacity to respond greatly exacerbate a country’s ability to prevent displacement and protect those who become displaced, once vulnerable to climate change. In the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, for example, incredible rates of poverty and weak human rights institutions have intensified the impacts of climate change exposure. The 2010 Pakistan floods particularly demonstrated need for better international human rights transparency, institutions, and monitoring, and the creation of mechanisms that allow for the resolution of human rights issues in the context of climate displacement. In this light, the challenges of climate displacement must be seen as implicating existing human rights instruments such as the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)  and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), in addition to new frameworks.

Climate displacement can be a means to work with governments to strengthen their human rights institutions and commitments: it may be easier to advocate for human rights to governments in terms of climate change rather than political upheavals. One option is to encourage countries to incorporate human rights standards into natural disaster law and policies. For example, Daniel Petz, Senior Research Assistant on Natural Disasters of the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement has worked with various governmental disaster managers to incorporate the IASC Operational Guidelines on the Protection of Persons in Situations of Natural Disasters in national disaster law and policies, which promote and facilitate a rights-based approach to disaster relief.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Despite Criminalization, FGM Persists in Egypt

by Mai El-Sadany
Twitter: @MaiE_89

Source: Flickr
In what was considered by many to be a legal and at least superficial victory, on February 3, 2013, Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court rejected a lawsuit challenging the illegality of female genital mutilation (FGM). The lawsuit was filed in 2008 to challenge a decision by the Ministry of Health in 2007 to criminalize the practice, claiming that the ban violated the principles of Sharia. FGM had been made illegal in the country in 1997, and in 2006, the head of Al-Azhar, Egypt’s most prominent Islamic institution, denounced the practice and distanced it from religious traditions (and again reiterated this position in 2008 and 2011).

Despite the solid legal stance against FGM in the country, the practice remains pervasive in Egyptian society and it is unclear to what degree the most recent court ruling will have an effect on the day-to-day lives of Egyptian women. In a country that has recently completed the drafting and ratification of its constitution and continues to undergo a transition period where rule of law and implementation of both national legal codes and international standards has largely been absent, the outlook is not a positive one.

About 91 percent of all women aged 15 to 49 have been circumcised in Egypt; while the numbers are showing a slight decrease among younger generations, the practice remains common. The procedure is often performed on young girls and considered by many to be a “rite of passage” into adulthood. Although there are multiple ways to carry out FGM, the procedure generally involves the removal of the clitoris, along with all or part of the labia minora. Although historically conducted by traditional birth attendants without anesthetic or appropriate medical care, more and more licensed doctors and nurses are carrying out the procedure. FGM has been regarded as a means to preserve the woman’s virginity before marriage for the sake of both culture and religion by decreasing her sexual desire. Although many in Egypt believe that the practice is based in religion, others unequivocally deny this. The side effects of FGM and poor after-care of the invasive procedure can range from minor infections to long-standing psychological issues, problems with menstruation and childbirth, extreme ailments, bleeding for days, and in some cases, death.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Prohibitive Price of Affordable Fashion

by Elena Marsteller

“Sales from $3,” announces the website of H&M, a retail clothing company that quickly and cheaply manufactures clothing inspired by current fashion trends.  The ongoing popularity of affordable fashion is evident in the success of brands like H&M and its contemporaries, as even the First Lady has embraced the trend geared to the buyer on a budget.
However, a high price is paid for the production of $10 jeans by others in the global supply chain, especially children in Uzbekistan, who are forced into labor as cotton pickers during an annual cotton harvest. According to We Live Subject to their Orders, a report by a group of Uzbek human rights activists in partnereship with the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), Uzbekistan is the world’s 6th largest producer of cotton and the 3rd largest exporter of cotton. Between September and November, Uzbek cotton exports generate $1 billion in revenue. The child laborers carrying the burden of harvesting the cash crop are unique because they operate as part of a state-sanctioned forced labor program, compelling all citizens, including children, to pick mandated quotas of cotton during the harvest. 
Current State of Child Labor in Uzbekistan
A Human Rights Watch report states that “International nongovernmental organizations and foreign media outlets are prevented from operating in Uzbekistan, making it difficult to report on forced and child labor or other human rights abuses.” Furthermore, the government of Uzbekistan will not allow the ILO to send independent experts to observe and control forced child labor.  Because of the Uzbek government’s reluctance to allow formal outside supervision of the cotton harvest, it is impossible to know with certainty the current state of child labor in the country. Much of the available information relies on the observations of human rights defenders in Uzbekistan. According to the most recent US Department of Labor report, 2011 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor, children in Uzbekistan are “engaged in the worst form of child labor” during the cotton harvest. In 2011 there were more young students allowed to stay in school rather than participate in the harvest overall. However, the report cites some incidences where young children were still required to pick cotton in order to reach a required quota. Generally it appeared that older children were sent to harvest cotton before younger children, but there were incidents reported where children as young as ten were forced into the fields.